I have a little bit of a different blog for you this time as I have been away on an Erasmus+ Mobility exchange program in Finland to look at and compare their forestry. The project was funded through the Erasmus+ programme and developed by ARCH and its consortium partners. This course gave me a greater experience of what the Caledonian pine forest could look like and how we are better able to engage people in nature and conservation. I wanted to use this experience to explore my understanding and share what I learned with all of you.
From 30th August to 6th September 2022, I was fortunate to take part in a Nature Exchange in Finland. The visit was funded through the Erasmus+ programme and hosted by staff and students from Tampere University of Applied Sciences.
My role as Head Ranger at Balmoral Estate involves taking practical action on the ground to manage habitats and species as well as visitors and access. I am also involved in providing access and interpretation to visiting members of the public.
Natural regeneration was abundant nearly everywhere we visited, something which is comparatively unusual in Scotland unless it is enclosed within a deer fence.
Regeneration was so prevalent in some locations that it was encroaching into previously open habitats, such as small fields of abandoned farms.
A strong hunting culture and associated herbivore management within Finland appears to the main cause for natural regeneration within Finnish forests.
I went to Finland with an idea to compare the forests there with those in Scotland and, more specifically, with that found at Abernethy. It became apparent, however, that such a comparison was unrealistic. The context of the forests, geographically, culturally and historically, are totally different. Finland is roughly 5 times the size of Scotland and is 75% forested. The population is approximately the same in both countries. This has meant that huge areas of Finnish forest are never, or incredibly rarely, disturbed by human activity. Historically, effectively all of Scotland’s forests have been managed as commercial plantations, especially following the Second World War. This meant a huge reduction in the size of the forest and large areas of forest consisting of uniform trees the same age and size. Finland has greater areas of old growth, natural forest which has never been managed by humans. Culturally, the natural world appears to garner much more respect in Finland than in Scotland with visitors much less likely to actively damage the forest or wilfully disturb wildlife. Regular fire sites and camping huts mean that visitors have designated places to eat, sleep and light fires. Much of the way the Finnish people treat and manage their forests provide a glimpse of how Abernethy could be however it felt to me that we are simply a couple of generations behind.
By Claire Glaister, Institute of Chartered Foresters 61 degrees latitude: A house of 100 trees An intrepid group of seven left Scotland to head to the land of lakes and trees; a country with a scale of forestry which, to a forester, comes close to Utopia. The week-long Erasmus+ study tour, hosted by Tampere […]
Despite the presence of bears and wolves we learned that hunting is essential to managing a sustainable deer population, which was contrary to my perception at the start of the trip. Tapio said there are around 300 wolves in Finland, but 10,000 would be needed to meet equilibrium. It would not be possible for the number of wolves to coexist with the current human population of Finland – so hunting of deer by humans will always be required.
We also learned that in the Lapland area accounting for 36% of the country no bears, wolves or lynx were tolerated and were shot on sight to protect the reindeer. Unlike Scotland there are no ‘professional’ hunters, as hunting is too popular of an activity. However, Tapio foresees such jobs might exist in the future as the country continues to urbanise and less people live in rural areas.
This film shows the other side of the Erasmus course – the friendships formed and the cultural barriers toppled.
What beguiled me on this trip was that it was evident from every Finnish person I spoke too that they had a deep respect for nature. This included the hunters. Even the predators were an important part of their mythology. For instance, people used to collect the first droppings that a bear produced after hibernation and kept them in a pouch to wear so that they would have the strength of a bear all year. Another indication of this respect was the almost total lack of litter found in natural places which can be a real problem in Scotland. Our student guides just didn’t understand why you would leave rubbish behind. Solo walks in the forest were common and important to people of all ages. My impression was that the Finnish culture still maintained a real connection with nature whilst some urbanisation in Scotland may have severed this connection.
“We have around 500,000 capercaillie in Finland ” said Tapio Vähä-Jaakkola, our host at a local hunting club, as our jaws dropped. My colleagues Chris and Molly from RSPB work on capercaillie and the population in Scotland is in a pretty sorry state, having dropped to around 2000, from an estimated 20,000 in the 1970s. Capercaillie populations are healthy enough for Finns to hunt tens of thousands of them a year. “Most of the capercaillie hunting takes place in Northern Finland”, Tapio said later. In the 10,000 hectares of forest controlled by the Metsästysseura Haukka Ry hunting club, they hadn’t shot capercaillie for many years “Last year we calculated that there were enough capercaillie for us to hunt two.”